Mary Carey entered Blas na hEireann in 2015 with her ready to bake Simply Scones and brough home to Meath a Bronze award in a very tough category. You can find more information on www.simplyscones.ie or find out more on our 2015 winners and finalists in our 2015 Directory
When & why did you start your business?
The concept behind Simply Scones has been at the back of my mind for many years now, though it was April 2015 when I sold my first packs of frozen scone at the Honest 2 Goodness farmers market in Glasnevin, Dublin. Many years ago I had a stand at a farmers market in Clonee where I sold a wide range of home baked goods including sweet and savoury scones. I’d get up at the crack of dawn to have my scones freshly baked for my customers but I was always conscious that many of them wouldn’t be eaten for a day or two when I knew they’d be long past their best. The short shelf life of a scone always challenged me and I wanted my customers to experience a truly fresh and delicious home baked scone. This was when I got the idea of freezing them immediately on making for baking at a later stage.
However my idea was put on hold as I returned to work following a career break. In December 2013 I was offered a voluntary redundancy from the financial institution I worked in for over 30 years and decided to grasp the opportunity to pursue a career focused on my true passion, food!
My journey didn’t bring me directly to my scone making business. When I finished working in the world of finance I completed a week long course in Ballymaloe, “Start your own Café or Teashop” as that was the direction I felt I was destined to follow. I was so struck by Darina and Rory O’Connell I could happily have spent a month in the school. They both shared their knowledge so generously it was a truly fascinating and inspiring course. Throughout the week Darina continually cited examples of businesses built around one “x factor” and her mantra was “all you need is one good idea”. It was during this week that I had my light bulb moment and decided to revisit my scone making plan and stick with what I knew I could do well. So thank you Darina!
Last year I took part in the Food Academy programme, a training programme aimed at supporting start up food businesses, run collaboratively by SuperValu, Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Office. Through this I got to supply my scones in eight Meath SuperValus. The focus of the programme is to support sustained growth for small food suppliers and this is done by allocating additional stores at regular intervals. So in January I started stocking SuperValu stores in Louth and Westmeath.
Who is your food inspiration?
My mother Nancy was my greatest food inspiration and instilled in all her children a love of cooking. Nancy ran a Farm Guest house in West Cork in the70’s. Scones were her signature welcome to all guests, served warm from the oven with homemade raspberry jam and copious pots of tea. These were the years before coffee became a popular drink, although there was the option of a cup of instant Maxwell House for discerning guests! Evening meals were planned around seasonal produce using home grown fruit and vegetables (from the garden lovingly tended by my dad when he wasn’t teaching), eggs from our own hens and locally sourced meat. So I suppose cooking and baking have always been part and parcel of my life. Unfortunately both my parents died in their early 60’s but their legacy lives on and I think my mother would be very proud if she were here to see “Simply Scones” and in fact I know she’d have her sleeves rolled up to help.
What do you love about your job?
There are many aspects of my job that I love. I love baking so I never consider this part to be hard work.
Reluctantly I recently gave up my stall at the Honest 2 Goodness Market so as to concentrate on the retail side of my business. I loved the buzz of meeting with customers and the fabulous fun and interaction with the other stall holders. Luckily I get this same enjoyment when I do in-store tastings in SuperValu because generally people are very engaging, happy to sample my product and have a chat.
Working for myself means no rigid starting hours, no traffic congestion to contend with and being available to family member if the need arises.
What is your typical day?
I wish I could say I have a very structured and organised routine but my day depends upon which stores are in need of re-stocking as some of the shops want deliveries to be made early in the morning. I’m lucky enough to be producing from my own premises so there’s no travel involved. Generally I try to have my dry mixes weighed up from the previous day and then it’s a case of making up the scones, freezing, packing them and having them ready for despatch. I tend to deliver on a Wednesday as my boys have a half day from school and I might be lucky enough to get a helping hand
What is your favourite part of the day?
Without doubt my favourite part of the day is when the school bus pulls up outside the gate at 4.30pm and delivers my two sons, Donagh (17) and Ronan (14) home to me. I aim to have production finished for the day at this stage so we can sit and enjoy a good old catch up over a cup of tea!
What was your best day since you started this business?
Early on in my scone journey, through Meath’s Local Enterprise Office, I met with a Business Advisor called John Dempsey. I really didn’t know what to expect from this meeting and wondered if I’d be sent home with my tail between my legs. I went prepared with my one page outline of my business idea along with some baked scone samples and of course the mandatory butter and jam. I left the meeting very heartened with John telling me he thought I had a good product and to keep going. I was even more heartened when later that evening I got a message on my phone saying that he had eaten two of my scones and thought they were excellent!!
Being awarded a Blas na hÉireann award for my fruit scones after such a short few months in business has to ranks as another of my best days. I was really chuffed and delighted to have received my bronze award in the Morning Baked Goods category and spending the weekend in Dingle meeting fellow food producers was such a great experience.
Tell us about the people you work with?
I’m a bit of a one man band at the moment which brings with it lots of challenges when you add in trying to manage a busy household that includes two teenage boys who don’t like to see an empty fridge!! I have had enormous support from family along the way. My niece Cathryn, a student at the National College of Art and Design came up with the inspiration and design for my packaging. But a J1 visa took her to America last year and my brother, Donagh, came to the rescue getting the art work completed and delivered to the print and packaging company and also getting my tasting stand and business cards printed. I consider myself very lucky to have had all this help along the way. I’ll be paying them back in scones for years to come!!
I get great support from a fellow food producer, Mairéad Finnegan, of Roll It Pastry who has been my friend and mentor since I started on my scone producing journey. It’s always great to have someone who understands your challenges and can offer wisdom and support, Mairéad does this in spades!
What three words would you use to describe yourself/your business?
Authentic: simple product, simple ingredients providing total convenience for the customer.
Reliable: the product consistently delivers what it claims to.
Fun loving: there has to be a light moment and a bit of a laugh in every day, this is generally shared with Kevin, Donagh and Ronan!
What do you think is the key to success?
Belief in product. I know I couldn’t do what I do day to day if I didn’t believe that I had a quality product to offer my customers.
Unique selling point. You have to have something slightly different to offer if you want to stand out from your competitors and appeal to your customers. In my case I think I am possibly the only frozen ready to bake scones on the retail market offering my customers a truly convenient, quality home baked scone experience.
Innovative. You need to keep you customers engaged and interested by adding something different by way of innovative new products or some seasonal variety. Watch this space for my next product!
Has there ever been a situation which started out as a negative but turned out for the best?
At the early stages when I was conducting some market research I prepared a simple questionnaire to get customers reaction to my product. I was a bit put out when some of the feedback suggested that the scones contained too much baking powder. Then I realised I had stopped tasting them thinking I had perfected my recipe. When I did start to taste them again I realised that the criticism was well founded and I adapted my recipe to what it is today. A valuable lesson learnt, always listen to your customers!